In My Own Words: Biology, Gender, and Sexuality

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Are people allowed to have different opinions about issues without being demonized or receiving death threats? Those are all too common today when it comes to politics, but have not been restricted to that: the same are occurring with disagreements about issues of gender and sexuality. Even famous authors such as J. K. Rowling are not exempt, although it shouldn’t take death threats against someone well known for us to realize this is not an appropriate response to disagreements. One way to make this clear is to look at a different issue: religious differences.

I don’t believe Jesus is the savior and son of God who died for my sins, and whose acceptance is necessary to find grace in this world and to be let into the kingdom of heaven after I die. I know many people who feel this way: some are fine with my religious path. Others pray for my acceptance of Jesus as my savior because they love me. There are people who believe all Jews are condemned souls who will burn in the fires of hell, but I don’t care as long as they don’t advocate taking away my civil rights. We can disagree on religion and still be good American citizens.

I am a supporter of transsexual rights and believe people have a right to define their gender and sexuality any way they want. (One clarification: sex with children is never acceptable.) These ideas are very different from the ones that were common when I was growing up, but I long ago learned that society’s conception of the world is often wrong. (Just think of the continuing struggle for civil rights and women’s place in the world.) However, there are people who define gender by biology: a woman has a uterus and menstruates. A man has a penis and produces sperm. For them, it’s simple. For others, it’s not: their gender and their biology don’t feel the same, and they want to find a way to be comfortable within their own skin. 

My problem is when people on either side are attacked. I can understand how those working to change societal conventions and the law find it upsetting when others don’t accept their reality. It’s difficult enough to come forward with their true selves and to have someone reject that self is a blow. The LGBTQ+ community is still vulnerable and open to attacks – including physical attacks. I also understand that some people feel uncomfortable with these societal changes. They don’t want to change their ideas – ideas that feel as correct to them as accepting Jesus as their lord and savior does to my practicing Christian friends. We can think they are wrong, but death threats don’t help and won’t change their minds. In fact, they just confirm people’s beliefs that their ideas are right.

In order for our society to exist, we have to accept the fact that people have different ideas – that everyone will not completely agree with how we feel. Yes, it can be frustrating and infuriating, but it’s also a fact of life. Trying to create a world where everyone feels and acts the same is dangerous. Totalitarian governments punish or kill disbelievers: if you think that’s a good idea, just remember you might be the one whose belief is on the losing side.